Memorandum submitted by the University and College Union

 

Introduction

1. UCU, the University and College Union represents academic staff and academic related staff in universities, general, specialist and tertiary further education colleges and adult and community learning and prison education services.

2. Our members across further and higher education have a crucial interest in addressing the social and economic impact created by lack of access to educational opportunity and we strongly welcome the Select Committee's Inquiry and this opportunity to put forward our members' views.

Summary

3. There has been increasing concern about the growing number of 'NEETs' in recent years. We are now at a level of crisis with the number having reached 1.08 million - a generation of young people who could be left on the scrap heap of the recession. Shockingly, recent DCSF research on one Northern city has found that 15% of long-term NEETs are found to be dead in ten years.

4. NEET young people are not a homogenous group. They are statistically more likely to be NEET if they are teen mothers, young offenders, low achievers, persistent truants or young people from workless households.

5. There is a 'postcode lottery' operating in the UK with regard to access to qualifications. In a recent UCU survey, of the 20 parliamentary constituencies with the highest percentage of people with no qualifications, the West Midlands accounts for eight of them and occupies the four bottom spots. This is significant as disadvantage tends to be inter-generational.

 

6. A multi-agency approach across an area or authority, so that all the information is collected and shared across agencies and institutions is essential if the NEET problem is to be tackled effectively.

7. There is also a need for stability of both funding and structures, something that has been lacking in recent years. Short term funding for new initiatives is not sustainable in tackling deep seated problems and the evidence is that constantly changing funding streams cause confusion for both NEETS and those whose job it is to help them.

8. NEET young people need to be listened to and solutions to their problems placed within their own experiences rather than imposed from outside. This should include personalised learning which is flexible and responsive and recognises and values non-formal learning.

9. There should be clear and effective IAG and progression routes for them, with clear and meaningful destinations which are long term.

10. Proactive outreach work is an effective method of engaging the disengaged.

11. The government of whatever party needs to start tackling the long term funding and systemic problems within UK education, employment and training in order to lower NEET numbers.

12. Low levels of public investment and correspondingly low levels of participation have massive social and economic consequences. The case for education and training is clear. The need to act now to increase public investment or fall further behind other countries is overwhelming.

Context

13. The government's concern with NEETs, whilst rightly focused on the waste and damage to current and future lives of these young people, is also about fears of the wider social impact. There is strong evidence that the often multiple social and economic disadvantages NEETs suffer, will follow them throughout their lives in terms of on-going reduced employment prospects, poverty and its consequences in terms of poor health and housing. This will in turn impact on these young people's families and children, making the disadvantages inter-generational.

14. International comparisons show that the UK compares unfavourably for NEETs in the15-19 age group and the 20-24 age group.

15. The OECD average proportion of each of these age groups who are NEET is 7.4% and 15.1% respectively

16. The UK's figures are 10.7% and 18.1%.

17. Only Spain at 10.9% of the 15-19 age group and Turkey with a 36.1% NEETs for 15-19s and 45.7% for 20-24s does worse than the UK.

18. Analysis of the most recent data from the OECD on young people in education shows that 24 countries have a higher percentage of young people in education than the UK (20-29 year olds).

19. UCU would argue that one of the core reasons for this comparatively poor participation rate, lies with the UK education and training system. Not only is the system of providers and routes to qualification and achievement fragmented and incoherent, with a jungle of competing qualifications, but it is essentially elitist, class based and hierarchical.

20. This is reinforced by several policy drivers, such as the importance given to league tables of providers based on achievement and the fear of a poor OFSTED report and being placed in special measures.

21. There is evidence that factors such as these then distort the curriculum in schools and teaching and learning. Thus there are clear indications that many schools teach to the tests, and concentrate on those on the border of acceptable achievement (5A* to C GCSEs), with those below this benchmark being left all too often to fend for themselves.

22. There has also been a long-term rising trend in youth unemployment, going from 11.6% in 2001 to 15.1% in August 2009,. This suggests that the rise is structural, evidence of a longer term 'skills mismatch' between young peoples' skills and the demands of the emergent 'knowledge economy'.

23. The recession is hitting young people very hard. Youth unemployment in August jumped to a 16-year high of 946,000 (Office for National Statistics, 14 October 2009) with over one in three (39%) 16-24 year-olds unemployed for over six months, the highest figure since October 1994 (TUC survey, 14 October 2009). The number of NEETs has also risen as young people leave compulsory education with little hope of employment, and are joined by those low and no-skill young people being made redundant.

Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category - Who are 'NEETs'

24. It is critical to understand that the young people defined as NEETs are not a homogenous group.

25. Bernardo's, in their Report 'Second Chances: Re-engaging young people in education and training (March 2009) lists the following characteristics of NEET young people:

'looked after' children - 25% of the total 16-19s in 2006/7;

young parents - about 10% are teen mothers;

young offenders -25% of the 2006-7 NEET cohort;

low achievers (at GCSE) 39% with no GCSEs are NEET at 16 - only 2% of those young people with five or more A*-C GCSEs are NEET;

persistent truants - more than seven times more likely to be NEET at 16; the excluded - NEETs young people are three time more likely to have been excluded from school;

young people from workless households - 50% of the NEET cohort in Wales came from workless households.

26. These helpful classifications demonstrate some persistent themes that can be used to identify the current cohort of NEETs and those most of risk as falling into the category at 16.

Who is responsible for taking action?

27. The primary responsibility for identifying NEETs young people and those at risk must begin with education providers, schools and colleges. Schools should be able to identify those who are truanting, falling behind in attainments, being excluded, being bullied and so on.

28. Connexions services providing information, advice and guidance should be able to identify those young people who are disengaged and have no plans to continue their participation in learning and have little hope of settled employment. Local authority youth services will be in direct contact with a whole range of young people including those in the NEET category. Community and voluntary sector organisations may well be able to identify certain groups of young people, perhaps the most disengaged.

29. However what is essential to successful strategies around identifying NEETs young people and those at risk of becoming NEETs is a multi-agency approach across an area or authority, so that all the information is collected and shared across agencies and institutions.

30. There is also a need for stability of both funding and structures. For example IAG services for young people have been through a decade of re-organisations, re-structuring and policy initiatives. This does not provide the stability of staffing or high morale required to tackle deep seated social and economic problems.

31. For practioners, short term funding means that not only is there no assurance that they can follow through on their programmes with young people, it also means they are at risk of losing their jobs.

32. UCU recommends that in each authority there is a clearly defined and agreed lead organisation that will co-ordinate the variety of institutions and agencies that are involved with young people and in a position to contribute to building up an accurate picture of NEET young people in their locality.

Services and programmes to support those most at risk of becoming "NEET", and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently "NEET"

33. There have been a plethora of policy initiative, programmes and changes to the curriculum and qualifications of 14/16-19 year olds to make participation in learning more motivating and rewarding, to reduce the numbers of NEETs.

34. However, there also needs to be more emphasis on the reality of life for these young people and initiatives and strategies should be aimed at reducing some of the barriers to participation that many of them face.

35. Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) paying young people from lower income families a weekly sum of money was started in 1999, and was subsequently rolled out nationally in 2004.

36. This has been shown to have a small but significant impact on the number of young people from these backgrounds continuing to participate in education. A Nuffield Review paper in 2006 estimated that there had been 5.9% increase in School Year 12 participation in full-time education and training. Retention rates in post-16 education have been increased by 6.2%

37. EMAs have since been supplemented by 'Activity Agreements' which have been operated in eight areas. They are aimed at longer term NEETs who have been in this category for 20 weeks. The young people obtain small financial incentives - 20-30 per week to participate in activities to encourage them to take up learning or employment. Around 11,000 young people were involved in the first two years of the scheme. It has now been extended until April 2010.

38. NEETs young people need to be listened to and solutions to their problems placed within their experiences rather than being imposed from outside.

39. UCU agrees with the LSN in their report 'Tackling the NEETs Problem' that identifies nine key elements of the best type of college provision for NEETs. The four most critical elements are:

Partnership arrangements between education providers, IAG services, youth and social services, employers and where possible representatives of the young people themselves. There also needs to be a proper balance between strategic and operational levels.

Effective management and organisation so that NEETs provision is integral to the whole curriculum. There also needs to be resources for professional development for those staff working in this area

Personalised learning which is flexible and responsive and recognises and values non-formal learning.

Clear and effective IAG and progression routes with clear and meaningful destinations.

40. The other elements included outreach. UCU considers that particularly in respect to both the long-term NEETs and some of the groups that have already been referred to such as young mothers, outreach work is essential to contact these young people. While we consider that youth workers operating on the streets is one of the most successful ways of identifying, contacting and working with NEETs

41. We question whether the capacity currently exists to do this effectively given recent funding cuts.

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

42. This submission has already made reference to the deeper and systemic issues and problems with the UK's education and learning systems that gives rise to our persistent problem with NEETs. There are clearly competing agendas between the activities for improving standards in education. The narrow standards agenda is given priority to the broader agenda of tackling disengagement.

43. UCU also believes that government has relied too much on top-down levers such as curriculum and qualifications reform and centrally directed initiatives and targets.

44. The government flagship policy of raising the age of participation in learning to 18 for all young people by 2015, and all 17 year olds by 2013 is intended to help address the NEETs issue.

45. UCU is strongly in favour of all young people continuing to participate in learning beyond compulsory schooling. However we are opposed to introducing raising the compulsory age of learning since this may force many young people to disappear from official records, to go 'underground'.

The opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds

46. UCU has very strong fears that the current recession and the very high levels of youth unemployment will mean am increase in the numbers of NEETs.

47. For education providers, be they schools or colleges, there may be a reluctance to recruit such young people without additional resources.

Politicians have seen further education as one of the solutions to re-connecting these NEETs young people and those at risk of joining this cohort. One current idea is to provide full time further education in the form of some new version of technical schools within FE for young people from the age of 14.

48. UCU has concerns about this concept. We recognise that there have always been young people in FE below the age of 16, and that the numbers of these has been growing over the last five to six years. However we do not think that FE colleges have the necessary infra-structure in terms of facilities and pastoral care to be suitable for full time 14-16 pupils.

 

Conclusion

49. It is clear that there is much good work being undertaken by schools, colleges, IAG and youth services and many voluntary and community organisations in dealing with NEETs young people and trying to encourage them back to learning.

50. The government of whatever party, needs to start tackling the long term funding and systemic problems within UK education, employment and training in order to lower NEET numbers.

51. Low levels of public investment and correspondingly low levels of participation have massive social and economic consequences. The case for education and training is clear. The need to act now to increase public investment or fall further behind other countries is overwhelming.

December 2009

 

References

OECD indicators 'Education at a Glance', September 2009.

DCSF NEET Statistics - Quarterly Brief November 2009.

Bernado's 'Second Chances: Re-engaging young people in education and training' March 2009.

Learning and Skills Network/ Institute of Education Report 'Tackling the NEETs problem: LSN 2009.

Learning and Skills Network 'Raising the learning leaving age: are the public convinced?' Frank Villeneuve - Smith, Liz Marshall and Silvia Munoz 2007

Nuffield 'Education for All the future of education and training for 14-19 year olds. Pring, Hayward, Hodgson, Johnson, Keep. Oancea, Spours and Wilde Routledge 2009

OFSTED : good practice in re-engaging disaffected and reluctant students in secondary schools. October 2008

OFTSED 'Engaging young people' OFTSTED March 2009